Imperfect Storms

Last Saturday was the Preseli Ultrabeast run. As those who have followed the blog for a while will know I love the races in Preseli, I’ve run the shorter versions of the Beast Bach (11 miles) twice, the Beast (24 miles) and the Ultrabeast. As this was the first year the Ultrabeast has been run since covid and the first time I’ve been able to run it since 2018 due to injury I was very excited to be going back out there.

I got my ass kicked.

That’s the short version – you may want to scroll down to the photos as the rest is just a post mortem for future reference.

I’ve spent the last few days trying to work out what happened and what went wrong. But first I need to explain what actually went down on the day. Although I don’t think I’m quite sure myself.

The Ultrabeast is a 32 mile race through the Preseli Mountains, I don’t think there is a flat section over 200 metres in the whole thing. A couple of the climbs such as the one up Carn Ingli feel vertical and the top of that climb is a rocky scramble. Put simply it is indeed a beast of a course. And I think I forgot just how hard it was.

It was a hot day too. And I don’t deal with heat well being fair skinned. We started at 10 and it was already feeling like a temperature I wouldn’t normally run in. And I’ve not run in any heat since I got Murph as he doesn’t like heat much either.

So from mile one things already felt off, I seemed to be putting out far more effort than I needed to just to trot along. I was already sweating profusely and had a feeling it might be a long day. Then after 7 or 8 miles my stomach went south, by now I had already removed my shirt just to try to keep cool. I started getting stomach pains low down, especially on descents and any water I was drinking was either just sitting in the stomach causing more pain or making me feel nauseous and coming back up.

All I could take were small sips every now and again. Unfortunately with the amount I was sweating out I knew I was going to dehydrate. By now there was a lot of walking involved. There’s a lot of a walking on that course anyway so the difference in pace wasn’t really noticeable anyway.

Things improved temperature wise at around the 12 mile mark as we climbed to the tops and mist fell, I was able to cool off a bit up there but the legs were now having none of it. The really steep climbs were feeling much tougher than I remember and I think the hydration and sickness issues were taking their toll in general.

At this point I’ll admit I just didn’t want to move anymore. It made no sense at the time in my head, I had been flying on the South West Coastal Path only a few weeks earlier with similar climbs and today I had nothing, zero. It was hard enough just to get to the top of Carn Ingli and there was no respite on the descent for as soon as I started going downhill the pains would return. And of course as soon as I descended into the valley the heat returned. Going from cool mountain mist to baking hot sunshine in a matter of minutes probably didn’t help my confused system either.

I wish I had an answer to what really went wrong, I could maybe blame undertraining but I should have had enough in the bank, especially after the South West Path. Perhaps I went in sick, perhaps it was just the heat and definitely some dehydration. Perhaps we are looking at a combination of everything going tits up at the same time. The next day the sunburn on my shoulders and face was pretty impressive and painful which is a definite clue. I don’t run with a hat as it chafes and makes me even hotter – that’s something I need to reconsider for sure. Same with running shirtless, ok it cools me but I burn so easily its dangerous.

It was unfortunate I couldn’t drink enough to stay hydrated, the plan was there and I tried But I just couldn’t keep enough down. I have no idea where I was at medically but I’m guessing looking back I had some sort of heat exhaustion or minor sunstroke going on, certainly I had a headache which I put down to dehydration at the time.

One of the quirks of the Ultrabeast is that it is the same route at the Beast race run at the same time, the ultra route adds an 8 mile loop near the end and the option is there if you are running the ultra to not do the loop and claim a Beast finish. I spent the miles leading up to this point trying to work out what to do for the best. Oddly enough the choice to just DNF and get a ride back from the aid station didnt actually cross my mind. Just switching to the Beast was a hard decision but one I reluctantly made.

It was incredibly disappointing at the time and in the immediate aftermath. It felt much like a DNF as even though I completed the 24 mile Beast race I hadn’t achieved what i set out to do. But after feeling wiped out for 3 days and now 5 days later I’m still sunburned it was the right decision to make. At least another 8 miles and 2 or 3 hours in the sun would have been a stupid decision and I’m glad now I made the right one. The last 5 miles once the decision were made were bad enough. There’s no shame in failure but there is in being a prideful idiot and having to get carried off mountains.

So that’s the tale of the Ultrabeast. But by writing this and spending some time looking at the lessons learned I think there are many positives to take from it. I can’t do much about sickness if I carry it into a race but I can do something about heat. I can make sure I’m trained for hills and not just hills but steep hills – I intend to take a look at how poles will work for me. I may not have run the 32 mile but I got through the 24 version which I guess most people would be more than happy with. I also learned once again when to call it a day at the right time.

So I have 2 Beast Bach finishes, 2 Beast finishes and 1 Ultrabeast finish. I have a year to get ready to make that 2 2 2.

I cant finish without saying how special this race is. The work of Carwyn to put it together and of all the marshalls and helpers out there on the day is incredible. Plus the support from the local communities. It makes it a carnival feel at times, the moments when you run past an accordion playing lady riding a red dragon at an aid station you don’t forget in a hurry. (No that wasn’t sunstroke). The support, encouragement, kids with supersoakers and smiles were probably all that got me through some parts. If you ever get chance to run one of these races, please do, you won’t regret. I don’t and I had the day from hell out there.